"Illustrating Depression: Capturing the Truth About This Illness" by Debi Gliori (Night Shift)
Today we're excited to share a guest post from Debi Gliori, author of Night Shift!
Unlike every other book I’ve written and illustrated, I didn’t set out to make a book when I began the drawings for ‘Night Shift’. The other thing I didn’t do was run it past my agent or my editor or another living soul until I’d drawn several of the pages to my own satisfaction. Actually, perhaps ‘satisfaction’ isn’t the right word. Let’s go with ‘until I’d nailed how I was feeling’. At that point, I asked my partner if he would cast an eye over what I’d been doing. I didn’t want anybody else seeing the drawings at that stage. He took one look at the first few black and smudgy drawings and fell silent.
Just to explain; my normal medium is watercolour - ladylike, contained and controlled on pre-stretched 100% rag watercolour paper. These...these Night Shift drawings were of a whole different order. For one thing, they were massive; too big to fit on my drafting table, I bought a proper artist’s easel, propped a sheet of hardboard on it and attached a vast roll of drawing paper to the top of that with a random assortment of bulldog clips. Pretty, it wasn’t. Then, rather than plan my drawing out in pencil, which is what I normally do for watercolours, I picked up a stick of charcoal, took a deep breath and got stuck in. My hands turned black, I lost track of time and occasionally I had to pull back, take several deep breaths and cover the drawing up less it pull me under.
Some things are better analysed in retrospect. I think I was trying to capture the exact feelings (or lack of feelings) which accompany the descent into a depressive state. I was circling the drain (a familiar place over a lifetime of living with depressive illness) and was trying to document my descent. I wanted to attempt to get a signal out from the depths of the pit in the hope that somebody would actually understand what it feels like to be down there.
Fellow-sufferers, family, friends, strangers, anyone who might say - I hear you.
The inspiration for parts of Night Shift came from my memory of my first encounter with depression as a new graduate from art college in Edinburgh
in 1984. Back then, depression wasn’t talked about. It was medicated, hidden and, to me at least, felt shameful, as if by succumbing to its foggy embrace, I’d shown how weak I was. My family cajoled, ignored, pretended and generally forced me to act as if nothing was wrong. I had a teaching contract at the Art College. What on earth did I have to be depressed about? Pull yourself together, they said. Show some backbone, they said. Unsurprisingly, under this regime, I fell to bits. Big time.
A nine month period of medicated fog ensued after which I slowly put my life back together, terrified that I’d have a relapse. Unfortunately, over the course of the following years I’ve had several relapses; post-natal and clinical, heading back down into that all-too familiar pit, hoping that the initial symptoms were something else, feeling the fear when I realised that the fog was rolling back in again. As my most recent episode began, I decided to report back from the frontline, and ‘Night Shift’ is the result.
My hope is that it can be used as a way to communicate. A permeable membrane between people with depression and people who would like to understand the illness. For those of us who have depressive illness, it can be almost impossible to explain how wretched we feel. It can feel like being walled up in a tomb. A hermetically sealed bubble. To be able to pick up a small book and turn to a page and say, ‘This is me today,’ and then turn to another page, ‘But I hope to feel like this tomorrow,’ could initiate a conversation. I suspect it’s as hard to watch someone you care about go through depressive illness as it is to suffer it; I hope that ‘Night Shift’ enables understanding and helps with those awkward silences that follow questions like, ‘So...how are you feeling?’
Deliberately, there are very few words in Night Shift in order to let the pictures talk and allow them be interpreted in whichever way the reader finds most helpful. Suffering from depressive illness puts us in such a lonely place. To be able to communicate and share our feelings could help lessen the loneliness.
Meet Debi Gliori!
Meet Night Shift!
Fighting dragons is one way of fighting depression. This book is another.
Through stunning black and white illustration and deceptively simple text, author and illustrator Debi Gliori provides a fascinating and absorbing portrait of depression and hope in Night Shift, a moving picture book about a young girl haunted by dragons. The young girl battles the dragons using 'night skills': skills that give her both the ability to survive inside her own darkness and the knowledge that nothing--not even long, dark nights filled with monsters--will last forever.
Drawn from Gliori's own experiences and struggles with depression, the book concludes with a moving author's note explaining how depression has affected her and how she continues to cope. Gliori hopes that by sharing her own experience she can help others who suffer from depression, and to find that subtle shift that will show the way out.
A brave and powerful book, give Night Shift to dragon fighters young and old, and any reader who needs to know they're not alone.